He came up short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, but that's about the only place Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson faltered this season. He should be the NFL MVP.
Just eight months after Peterson tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee on Christmas Eve 2011 at FedEx Field against the Redskins, he was back on the field practicing. By the time the 2012 season started, he still needed a few weeks to return to form. But by midseason he was dominating. Peterson topped 100 rushing yards in nine of Minnesota's final 10 games, and the Vikings won their final four games to reach the playoffs. Their reward? A rematch with the Green Bay Packers, whom they beat at home Sunday 37-34. Peterson finished with 199 yards and a touchdown and set up the game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
"Adrian Peterson is the sole reason why this team made the playoffs," NBC football analyst Rodney Harrison said.
It's hard to argue against that. Minnesota's defense is ranked 24th in the league against the pass at 244 yards allowed per game. It is better at defending the run but ranks just 17th overall. Only the Kansas City Chiefs had fewer passing yards than the Vikings (2,751).
And while quarterback Christian Ponder was effective against the Packers on Sunday -- it was actually his best game of the year -- he has been awful as recently as division games against the Bears (twice) and Packers in late November and early December. He was intercepted four times in those three games alone and has 18 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions on the season.
All of that allows opposing defenses to plan for stopping Peterson, and they still can't do it. Take away running quarterbacks like Michael Vick, Randall Cunningham and, yes, Robert Griffin III this season, and Peterson's average of 6.0 yards per attempt ranks among the best in NFL history. Of running backs with at least 175 carries in a season, only O.J. Simpson (1973), Barry Sanders (1997), Jim Brown (1963), Jamaal Charles (2010) and Spec Sanders (1947) have done better.
- Brian McNally